We get it: Not everyone has time for a lunch workout. When new hires move out to our Santa Fe headquarters, they can’t believe they’re allowed to ride, run, or climb for an hour in the middle of the day. That’s too bad, because even a 30-minute workout can be the ultimate fitness and productivity hack. In fact, a 2011 study in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine found that employees get more done when they take a break to exercise.
Learning how to properly execute the midday workout is tough—especially in an office that doesn’t have lenient lunch policies—but get it right and it’ll change the tone of your day entirely.
Check with Your Boss
First thing’s first: Make sure your job’s powers that be permit a lunchtime workout. If the rest of your office interprets “lunch” as a 20-minute stroll to the nearest deli while you take it to mean an hour (or longer) out of the office to sweat, problems will arise.
Have everything you need ready to go the night before. Pack your workout clothes at the top of your bag for easy accessibility and your miscellaneous hygiene items beneath. Think ahead and choose work clothes that won’t wrinkle to avoid taking home a gargantuan laundry load at the end of your week.
Eat Two Smaller Portions
One of the worst things you can do for your workout is go into it underfueled. By definition, however, working out midday means that you’re delaying lunch, and going into it groggy and lightheaded won’t do you any favors. The fix: Eat half your lunch around 11 a.m., close enough to your workout that it can function as fuel but far enough away that your body has time to digest. A few go-tos: fruit of any sort, or even half a sandwich. Stay away from fatty yogurts (an otherwise primo midmorning snack) and high-fiber foods like instant oatmeal, which will likely cause some movement in the bowels.
Don’t Make a Fuss
You aren’t doing anything wrong or deceitful—you’ve already checked with your boss, remember?—but your co-workers might not be on the same schedule. Block out an hour on your calendar as “busy” so you don’t get any last-minute calendar invites mid-trip. You can also refrain from packing up your desk entirely to assure your colleagues you’ll be returning. This means leaving office lights on and perhaps keeping your planner or notebook on the desk.
Map Your Workout
Plan out your exact workout ahead of time—and stick to it. Those seemingly inconsequential moments you spend deciding whether to do another set, picking a new song between stretches, or moseying over to the water fountain add up. Similarly, plot your run beforehand to keep your mileage (and therefore time) in check.
Prioritize the Extremes
During these workouts, you want to maximize your time. Your best options, then, are to do a HIIT workout—a high-intensity interval-based session where you can get your heart rate sky-high in a short amount of time (try this bodyweight workout)—or a shorter, lower-effort recovery run. Pro ultrarunner Dylan Bowman reserves the lunch run for easy days. “My advice: Sleep in, and run at lunch if your schedule allows.”
Cool Down at the Office
To eke out every available minute in your workout, schedule 15 minutes of easier work tasks—like an inbox cleanup—upon your return. If you have your own space, try some standing stretches—you can easily target your quads, hamstrings, and IT bands while upright—to bring your body temp down before you change clothes.
Have a Cleanup Plan
Arguably, the most important part of pulling off the lunch workout is making yourself presentable after the fact. For those who have offices with showers, that’s your best bet. Otherwise, portable shower wipes, a new layer of deodorant, some dry shampoo, and a quick splash of cold water in the sink can work wonders.
Essential Lunch Workout Gear
Clothes that perform well but could also moonlight as part of your business-casual wardrobe in a crunch are critical, as are a few items that help you transition from your midday sweat to your afternoon meeting nearly hassle-free. Here’s our favorite kit that perfectly bridges the office-gym divide.
Myles Everyday Tee
Simple and understated, this soft T-shirt is is 85 percent polyester and 15 percent cotton, which means it’s comfortable and looks a little more polished than your average workout shirt.
Tracksmith Longfellow Shorts
A four-way stretch Schoeller Dryskin fabric means these shorts look like “the least running-short-looking-running short ever made,” according to Tracksmith.
Allbirds Wool Runners
These trainers look like they belong nowhere near the gym. But take a few strides in these New Zealand merino wool joggers and you’ll realize they’re the most comfortable, formfitting option you’ve ever tried.
Timex iQ+ Move
Timex’s sleek new iQ+ Move has all the benefits of your normal activity and sleep tracker, except it doesn’t look like it belongs on a robot.
MiiR 25L Commuter
ShowerPill Athletic Body Wipes
All it takes is one wipe-down to leave you clean and smelling fresh.
Redd Superfood Energy Bar
The perfect way to bridge your meal gap, these bars are made from nutrition-packed superfoods like quinoa and oats, nut butters, maca powder, and chia and flaxseed. Zero processing required.